On the first day of fall practice, each Bartlett freshman wore a strip of masking tape across his helmet with his name written in black magic marker so the coaches knew who they were addressing.
It might have been a good idea for the mostly new varsity team to follow suit. Only two starters return from a squad that finished 4-5 last fall and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.
Coach Eric Ilich's second Bartlett team is a developing work in progress. With 16 seniors on the 45-man roster, plenty of juniors will get their first taste of varsity competition. That has Ilich thinking big picture as he prepares the Hawks bit by bit, practice by practice.
"Our motto is 'Improve our best,' " he said. "We want to improve our best every day. It's about the process and it starts with them getting up and putting their oar in the water and giving good effort. Good things happen after that. If we can get the whole program on track to improve their best every day, it will only make us better in the long run."
A familiar face leading the defense is returning end/outside linebacker Cameron Montbriand. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior finished last season with 34 tackles, 20 assists, a sack, 3 quarterback hurries and 2 fumble recoveries.
Senior Tyler Renella (5-11, 203) saw action last season at linebacker. He made 15 solo tackles, had 14 assists and recovered a fumble. Renella is also the team's long snapper, which should bring a sense of comfort to returning senior punter Mark Repiscak.
Brandon Sinclair, a 6-1, 185-pound senior, saw playing time last season at outside linebacker. A versatile player who also plays wide receiver, Sinclair made 6 receptions for 55 yards and contributed 4 special teams tackles.
Offensively, Mike Oakes returns to anchor the offensive line. A 6-foot-1, 250-pound senior who can play guard or tackle, Oakes is one of the trailblazers for returning back Joey Allen, who is expected to handle the ball more often now that the graduated Nolan Bernat is a preferred walk-on at Illinois. Last season Allen (5-1, 203) carried 45 times for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Bartlett staff will try to energize an offense that averaged 21 points and 279 total yards per game in 2016. The Hawks struggled to gain yards consistently until the final three weeks of the season, when they averaged 401 yards against East Aurora (460 yards), UEC Valley champion West Aurora (380) and Glenbard East (378).
"We built a solid foundation in the summer," Ilich said. "Now, we're trying to build on that with accountability, responsibility and effort."